[Colonial & Postcolonial Theory]

The Performative and Processual: A Study of Hypertext/Postcolonial Aesthetic


Part Two: Multiple (and Monstrous) Voices of Subjectivity

Jaishree K. Odin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Jackson's confrontation with Mary Shelley's text reflects her anxiety of authorship-the Miltonic questions "Who am I", 'Where am I" and 'Whence am I" that the monster in Frankenstein asks in order to understand his place in the world become the thematic focus of Jackson's text. The narrative consists of a series of first person narratives of varying lengths, the longest one mirrors the monster's story of dismemberment/ reassemblage and remembrance at both the physical and psychological level. The second belongs briefly to Mary Shelley, who reflects on the writer narrator of the long narrative and wonders if she could merge a part of her with the narratorčif she "could graft (herself) to that mighty vine. Who knows what strange new fruit the two of (them) might bear." The third one belongs to the female monster which on the monster's plea was assembled by Frankenstein who changed his mind finally to animate it and bring it to life, fearing it might have a mind of her own, and even worse create a brood of monsters that would cause a havoc in the world of men. The female monster though destroyed in Mary's text comes alive in Shelley's text and reflects on her destiny: "I told her to abort me, raze me from her book; I did not want what he wanted. I laughed when my parts lay scattered on the floor, scattered as the bodies from which I had sprung, discontinuous as I myself rejoice to be....To be linked to the chain of existence and events, yes but bound by it? No, I forge my own links, I am building my own monstrous chain, and as time goes on perhaps it will begin to resemble, rather a web."

Another first person narrative belongs to the women of the literary history. Recognizing her literary heritage while at the same time asserting her own artistic subjectivity, we read in one of the lexias; "My birth takes place more than once. In the plea of a bygone monster; from a muddy hole by corpse-light; under the needle, and under the pen. Or it took place not at all. But if I hope to tell a good story, I must leapfrog out of the muddle of my several births to the day I parted for the last time with the author of my being, and set out to write my own destiny."

Through creating multiple narratives of monstrosity that reflect one another, the writer attempts to realize her own artistic subjectivity as she at the same time tries to locate herself in the context of women's literary history. In Mary's Frankenstein the monster, also described as the creature and the fiend, is an assemblage of pieces which when assembled produce a hideous monster who is rejected by its creator and by society. The monster's plea to create a female companion for him does not come to fruition because female creativity in Shelley's time is seen as an anathema. Mary's narrative ends as the monster jumps out the window into an ice raft and is "borne away by the waves, and lost in darkness and distance" (237). Shelley's narrative then begins where Mary's ends and it reveals through fractured narrative surface what Mary's conceals in an elaborate system of framing and reframing. Shelley creates a monster too, but it is a monster that revels in its monstrosity, its fullness of life, its multiplicity and its difference. Here, the representation of artistic subjectivity as monstrous becomes synonymous with the expression of otherness and difference.

Shelley's text opens up Mary's text from within and shows how its innermost core is constituted of the female voice that is struggling to understand both its rejection by its creator as well as its outcast status as the outsider and the other. In their reading of Shelley's Frankenstein, Gilbert and Gubar see in it a mock rewriting of Milton's Paradise Lost and describe it as a narrative about the fall of woman into gender. Thus, "the monster's narrative is philosophical meditation on what it means to be born without a 'soul' or a history, as well as an exploration of what it feels like to be a 'filthy mass that move[s] and talk[s]'a thing, an other, a creature of the second sex" (233). Shelley exposes cracks in Mary's text which are revealed by juxtaposing Mary's text with her own text. The cracks are finally revealed not through what Mary's text says or even what Shelley's textual fragments say but the interval that the reader must traverse to go from one to the other. It is the gaps between the two types of fragments or the in-between spaces created through the juxtaposition of disparate fragments that finally give a deeper understanding of both texts. Shelley gives voice to Mary's monsters, and in doing that she reinscribes her own monstrous artistic self that finds its continuity with Mary even as it goes beyond her in self understanding. Thus, the first person narrator describes her skeleton as "made of scars: a web that traverses (her) in three- dimensions. What holds (her) together is what marks (her) dispersal." She describes herself as the "queen of dispersal" who is most herself "in the gaps between (her) parts."

Postcolonial OV PoCo Theory Themes